Review: Meatball Machine Kodoku
If the first film was industrial body horror with hints of Kamen Rider and early Peter Jackson, the sequel is what you would get if Hellraiser and Gwar had an illegitimate child that was raised by the Toxic Avenger. The film is all over the place, and that makes it equal parts glorious and equal parts confounding. As with the first film, as long as you go into this expecting bad taste and violence then you're good. Seriously, the trailer alone had enough fake blood to fill a few swimming pools, you know you can leave now if that's not your jam.
The film's star is the sad sack Yuji, a depressed and down on his luck debt collector with no confidence and growing stomach pains. We follow his life as he fails to collect money, gets bullied by his boss, pines for a much (MUCH) younger girl, and gets used by people. Along the way we get continual cuts of mysterious figures in green, marking the streets with painted lines. Simultaneously, a giant jar like object in space is hurtling through the cosmos towards Earth, so subtly isn't a strong suit for this film in case you didn't pick that up from the trailer.
Once he discovers he actually has cancer, Yuji is given a few months to live and after one of the mystery women hums a tune to him he snaps and has a glorious mental breakdown (and one of my favorite sequences of the film).
It's a fantastic montage set to the anthem of the film (titled Ironic Russian) and has a lot of great visuals and payoffs.
It eventually leads to Yuji attempting to aid the (MUCH) younger woman from earlier in a scene that echoes the first movie, where the protagonist is inept in their attempts to be the macho hero until things flip that switch (by invariably putting the female lead through horrible trauma inducing danger). While there's plenty of inappropriate gazing, Yuji and Kaoru seem to hit upon a genuine friendship. Misunderstandings happen and as they part ways, Yuji falls victim to a group of manipulative erotic dancers who beat him up and steal his money, because why not. Also because we needed more women to objectify with gross body horror later.
A couple more things are set up, but basically as Yuji is at an all time low (he's sorta kinda framed as a murderer), movie #2 comes crashing down after 30 minutes.
Once the jar and title lands on the city (and a handful of comical foreshadowing sequences are all paid off), the actual Meatball Machines happen. I really enjoyed this pacing decision, partially because it's a forceful compartmentalization of the films acts and also because it legit gave us enough time to understand our characters.
It's also at this point that a troublesome scene pops up where a character on a commercial break of the news is wearing black face and parading around as a witch doctor. The film has a couple items just tossed in it that left me wondering what references I'm missing and what is satire versus what's just bad taste (I mean it's all bad taste, but you know what I mean). This is a film that ends with a credits scene that attacks consumerism and the meat industry, so there's definitely some commentary throughout the whole thing. The character in black face was Yuji's horrible boss so I guess I can chalk it up to highlighting his douchiness, but it still felt like a weird random thing to include.
The movie kicks everything into high octane gear at this point, reintroducing the updated NecroBorgs from the first film and kickstarting a battle royale in the city. That includes new parasites, which are far more ridiculous than the ones in the first film but still enjoyable.
They attempt to take over Yuji, but his cancer kills the parasite because this is a bad movie, and so we get a Super Yuji.
From here on out it's a full splatterfest of ridiculous battles, dismemberment, and every excuse to show boobs and blood. They add the idea that each person who turns into a NecroBorg has a style/weapon that was an element of their personality, so the construction worker had a jackhammer hand, the guy who likes his car turns into a...motorcycle monster...because car....., and erotic dancers get machine gun boobs like the fembots from Austin Powers, only grosser. Because boobs are a personality trait.
A lot of this is fairly amusing, but it's worth noting that it's actually sort of exhausting as well. They film a lot of shots and just keep filming without breaking off and changing the pace. For example, the (MUCH) younger heroine Kaoru end up riding the motorcycle monster guy and pulls off her top to blind him and direct him like a horse. The trick is that scene lasts FOREVER, and they keep cutting back to it just so they can keep filming her topless. Other scenes hold on extended bloodletting or other violence as if they ran out of other ideas, which they most assuredly did not so it's strange that they made the decision to pad the film this way. Scenes like these always bring to mind when Peter Griffith scrapes his knee and we get a boring joke that lasts too long. After a character has been splurting out blood and screaming for 5 minutes, I just kinda want it to end.
MMK is a film of many imperfectly balanced absurdities. The stronger concepts, designs, and plotting all making it worthwhile but its Troma-esque guilty pleasures drag it into the mud for longer periods of time than needed. I don't want to say the social satire is lost, but it's obscured in the tint of all the murky fake blood. The upbeat nature of any of the comedic elements are also mired down by the nihilistic nature of the 'message', and any weight to the 'message' is lost in the splatter-comedy.
All of that critique aside, I did still enjoy the movie but probably not as much as the first film. While the budget was better and the highs were definitely high, the first had a little more charm in its low budget nature.